12 “But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, turning you over to the synagogues and prisons, bringing you before kings and governors on account of My name. 13 It will lead to an opportunity for your testimony. 14 So make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves; 15 for I will provide you eloquence and wisdom which none of your adversaries will be able to oppose or refute. 16 But you will be betrayed even by parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death, 17 and you will be hated by all people because of My name. 18 And yet not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives. Luke 21:12-19 (NASB2020)
It’s hard to think of persecution, betrayal, hatred, and martyrdom as opportunities. Every fiber in our being wants to avoid this kind of pain. In the States, we’ve enjoyed relative peaceful coexistence with the enemy compared to what the Apostles and early believers endured, and in fact what Christians face daily elsewhere in the world.
As we are seeing more and more though, following Jesus is putting us squarely at odds with somebody, perhaps in the family, work place, ballpark, or neighborhood, and certainly against rapidly changing societal norms. The tide is turning where we may indeed rise to “public enemy number one status.” The screws are being tightened.
Jesus specifically and emphatically says here that before he returns his followers will be tracked down and arrested “on account of” his name. This whole discussion assumes that in some way, shape, or form we are putting our faith on display, and if obedient, vocalizing and entreating others to follow it.
Jesus therefore says to “make up your minds not to prepare beforehand to defend yourselves” if the worst happens, i.e., the gig is up. Whatever the Spirit says through us during our interrogation will be irrefutable and eloquent, as from the mouth of Jesus himself. The Greek word for wisdom here is sophia, a theoretical understanding of the workings of God sans the seminary training.
A perfect model for all this was the Apostle Paul. He’s the one who was smoking out Christians and dragging them into the synagogue. He’s the one who was certainly encouraging family members or friends to rat on undercover Christians. He was the one who presided over Stephen’s stoning. But then the tables turned, and he was the marked man. But fearless in his allegiance to Christ he endured persecution at every turn. He ended up testifying before governors and ultimately Caesar. And he was martyred. In the process, his testimony and sacrifice rose as a sweet fragrance to God. (2 Corinthians 2:14)
While we may be hated by “all people” because of his name (let that sink in), not a hair on our heads will be lost (let that sink in too), and we will gain our lives if we endure.